The National Hockey League (NHL) was formed 100 years ago on Nov. 26, 1917, in Montreal, Quebec. The four original teams (reorganized from the National Hockey Association) were the Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, and Toronto Arenas (later the Maple Leafs). The first games were played on December 19 as the Canadiens downed the Senators 7-4 and the Wanderers outscored Toronto 10-9. The Arenas won that first NHL season, and the team advanced to a best-of-five championship series against the Vancouver Millionaires of the rival Pacific Coast Hockey Association. Toronto defeated Vancouver 3 games to 2 to take home the 1918 Stanley Cup.
In 1924, the Boston Bruins became the first United States team to join the NHL. In 1926, the New York Rangers, Chicago Black Hawks (later shortened to Blackhawks), and Detroit Cougars (later the Red Wings) joined the league. By 1942, the NHL consisted of Boston, Chicago, Detroit, the Canadiens, New York, and Toronto. This membership, known as the Original Six, remained unchanged until 1967. That year, the NHL doubled to 12 teams. All six new teams were in the United States. The NHL has since expanded several times, and there are currently 31 teams: 7 in Canada and 24 in the United States.
On Jan. 1, 2017, the puck dropped on centenary events with the NHL Centennial Classic, a frigid outdoor game between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs at BMO Field in Toronto. The next day, the NHL sponsored a float called “A Century of Greatness (1917-2017)” in the Rose Parade in a much-warmer Pasadena, California. Also in January, a mobile exhibition called the NHL Centennial Fan Arena began its year-long tour of NHL cities. The exhibition included the venerated Stanley Cup trophy, a pop-up hockey rink, a virtual reality Zamboni® experience, and numerous items from the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. A special NHL Centennial Exhibit also ran at the Hockey Hall of Fame throughout the year. Special centennial events also took place at the 2017 NHL All-Star Game in late January and at the NHL Hall of Fame induction ceremony in November. The NHL100 Classic, an outdoor game between the Canadiens and Senators, will wrap up the league’s centennial celebrations at Ottawa’s Lansdowne Park on December 16.
To further mark the anniversary, the league named the all-time 100 Greatest NHL Players. In a diplomatic move, the players were not presented in order of supposed greatness, but rather as a whole listed alphabetically. Naturally, the list included such ice legends as Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, and Bobby Orr, as well as such current stars as Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, and Alex Ovechkin. The league also named the Greatest NHL Team of all time, a somewhat less diplomatic process voted on by hockey fans. The vote began with every NHL Stanley Cup champion team, from the Arenas all the way up to last season’s Pittsburgh Penguins, and was cut down to 10 finalists. Fans then gave the NHL Greatest Team honor to the 1984-1985 Edmonton Oilers. The Gretzky-led Oilers beat the Philadelphia Flyers to win the Stanley Cup that season. The second and third greatest NHL teams were named as the 1991-1992 Penguins and 1976-1977 Canadiens.
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Image: This 1918 Toronto Arenas team composite shows the players and staff (and earned hardware) of the first NHL Stanley Cup champion team. Credit: Public Domain